Actors go to incredible lengths to play their roles.
In some cases, that means losing or gaining massive amounts of weight in a short time. In other cases, it means spending months in character.
But in other cases, the costumes themselves are the most difficult part of the job. For instance…
1. The Cowardly Lion in the “The Wizard of Oz” had to carry a lot of weight.
Bert Lahr played the role, and his costume weighed an astounding 90 pounds. Oh, and it was made from two real lion skins.
Of course, The Wizard of Oz is one of the most highly acclaimed films of all time, but when the lion suit was auctioned off, it was only valued at several thousand dollars. Whoever bought it made a nice investment; at a later auction, it sold for an astounding $826,000.
2. The Chewbacca costume wasn’t exactly comfortable.
The original Chewbacca costume was envisioned as a mix between “a monkey, a dog, and a cat,” and it was made from real yak and rabbit hair (knitted on a base of mohair). It was extremely hot, which created an extraordinary burden for actor Peter Mayhew.
In fact, the costume got so hot that its eyes detached, which was, obviously, a problem. To remedy the situation, filmmakers incorporated a water-cooling system in Episode III. This allowed Mayhew to wear the suit for long periods of time.
Interestingly, the original concept for Chewbacca might have been easier on the actor…but not necessarily easier on audiences. According to an original draft of the first Star Wars script, Chewie is:
“…An eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bush-baby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face…[and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”
3. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique makeup is absolutely insane.
In fact, at one point, it was most of the job.
“It used to take eight [hours], which is lovely,” Lawrence said during one interview. “Now it only takes three.”
For much of that time, Lawrence had to remain still; for other parts of it, however, she could sit on a stationary bike, which at least provided some sort of distraction.
By the way, the three-hour time for the later movies wasn’t the result of some incredible new makeup technology; Lawrence was simply being filmed from the neck up. Before you feel too sorry for her, consider that makeup artists decided on Mystique’s special shade of blue by experimenting—they tried at least nine other shades on other women (who never ended up on screen).
It wasn’t just paint. Mystique also has a series of scales, which complicated things somewhat.
“I know that everyone feels sorry for me, but it’s so much fun,” Lawrence said. “It’s like a sleepover, except I’m naked and getting painted.”
4. The original “Alien” costume looked completely different.
The Xenomorph didn’t always look as terrifying as it is now. It went through a few major tweaks even before they starting looking for an actor to don the costume. Once an actor was found, they then had to learn how to move and maneuver the creature’s rig. Check out the video below to see how the Alien franchise pulled off one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time.
5. Groucho Marx’s mustache was an iconic part of his character.
Modern viewers who haven’t paid close attention might not know that Groucho wore a greasepaint mustache—never a real one. Studio executive Walter Wanger even told Groucho to lose the “obvious fake.”
Groucho had apparently adopted the greasepaint as part of a vaudeville routine. However, he seemed to like the absurdity of it, as the artificial substance did not match the color of his natural hair. It also allowed him to exaggerate certain gestures and facial expressions on camera.
6. The Michael Myers mask from “Halloween” was a William Shatner mask.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the producers of Halloween decided to take a William Shatner mask and paint it white to create the gruesome look of the iconic villain. Where’d they get the mask?
“It had been made on Star Trek,” Shatner said later. “They would use the mask for appliances, so instead of my face, they’d use the mask to make sure that everything fit.”
When Shatner found out, he took it well. He even used the mask during a notable trick-or-treat excursion.
“I heard about it, and the next Halloween, with my grandkids, they went out trick-or-treating, I went out with them,” Shatner said. “I was wearing the mask. They’d say ‘trick or treat,’ and they’d usually get candy, but one time, this guy says, ‘get out of here.'”
“I went up to the front door, I knocked at the front door. I leered at him in the mask, then I yanked it off and I stared at him. He screamed, shut the door.”
That sort of means that Shatner’s face was more terrifying to the man than the actual Michael Myers mask, but hey—if an angry Shatner shows up on your doorstep, you’d be terrified, too.
7. E.T. was played by several actors.
The lovable alien was mostly played by two people with dwarfism, Tamara de Treaux and Pat Bilon. Their E.T. suits had slits at the top of the chest to allow them to see out.
However, for close shots, director Steven Spielberg trusted the talents of 12-year-old Matthew DeMeritt.
Matthew was born without legs, which allowed him to fit into the small suit comfortably. The suit was specially built to allow him to move around with his arms on the ground.
During the filming of the scene when Elliot dresses E.T. up in a dress so that he can escape to the forest, Spielberg also wore a dress. Of course, it was also Halloween; the cast even bobbed for apples.
Audiences eventually loved E.T., but early reviews weren’t great. Notably, Mars, Inc. refused to allow the film to use M&Ms for its iconic candy scene. Instead, Spielberg used Reese’s Pieces (and sales of the candies skyrocketed when the film became a success).
8. The suit from “Robocop” nearly ruined the entire film.
Part of the reason that Peter Weller won the part of Robocop was that he had a fairly small frame…well, relative to the other frontrunners for the part (one of whom was Arnold Schwarzenegger).
But the first version of the suit caused problems with the production. For starters, it wasn’t delivered on time, so Weller had to practice in a padded suit. When the real thing arrived, he quickly realized he was in over his head; the suit was large, heavy, and unwieldy. Temperatures were incredibly hot on set, and Weller was losing three pounds per day due to dehydration.
“It took me three hours to put on the inner suit, then another seven hours to put on the outer suit,” Weller told Ain’t It Cool News (note: link contains strong language). “I lost my mind…We shot one scene [the first day]. I said, ‘this is not going to work for me.'”
That night, Weller’s agent convinced him to stay with the production. Eventually, the costume team worked out a system; between takes, a member of the crew kept Weller as cool as possible by moving him to an air-conditioned area. That didn’t quite make up for the overall poor suit design, and later versions of the suit had fans built in.
9. The original Jabba the Hutt was just a normal guy.
In the original Star Wars, George Lucas wrote a scene with Jabba the Hutt confronting Han Solo. Eventually, this scene made it into the special edition re-release…but with a CGI Jabba in place of the original actor.
The first version featured a starkly different Jabba the Hutt. In fact, he was really just Jabba the Dude—early reels show actor Declan Mulholland, clearly in costume, but decidedly normal looking.
Lucas claims that he wanted to eventually replace Mulholland with alien puppetry, but some fans have cast doubt on those claims, noting that Mulholland is clearly in character in the deleted scene. In any case, Lucas eventually got his wish; in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt is portrayed as the big, disgusting blob that we all know and love. Oh, and he was controlled by seven individual puppeteers (of course).
10. For the People Eater, the “Mad Max: Fury Road” crew went all-out.
According to Lesley Vanderwalt, who oversaw the film’s hair and makeup design, the goal was to make the character as disgusting as possible—with one caveat.
“You couldn’t go disgusting enough and John [Howard, who played the role] was completely up for it,” she told The New York Times. “But it had to start with a business suit, because at one time, that man had been a banker. He’s really not so very different from various politicians and celebrities we now read about, just depicted in a more depraved, postapocalyptic way.”
As for the character’s gas mask catheter (gross), Vanderwalt says she doesn’t remember who came up with that idea.
“I think it was someone else’s idea,” she told the paper, “because I hope I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
The Fury Road crew designed every outlandish costume to look plausible; the characters’ clothes came from what would be available after a real apocalypse. In the film, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) wears iconic black face paint made to look like a mix of real-world components.
“We had to find a way to tie that makeup into the story,” Vanderwalt said. “We thought, these people had nothing but the materials around them, which would have been grease from the mechanical stuff they were building or clay from the ground.”